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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     59
only recently, for the branches on the undressed trees
were still fresh and green, the honeylike resin still oozed
from the cuts and a fresh smell emanated from the chips
and raw bark that lay around everywhere. Hence, the
clearing lived. Perhaps the Germans were preparing logs
here for their dugouts and emplacements? In that case he
had better clear out as quickly as possible, for the
lumbermen might turn up at any moment. But his body
felt petrified, fettered by dull, heavy pain, and he had not
the strength to move.
Should he crawl on? The instinct that he had cultivated
during these days of life in the forest put him on the
alert. He did not see but felt that somebody was closely
and relentlessly watching him. Who was it? Quiet reigned
in the forest, the lark was singing in the sky above the
clearing, the hollow pecking of a woodpecker was heard
and the tomtits darting among the drooping branches of
the felled trees angrily twittered to each other. But in
spite of all, Alexei felt with every fibre of his body that
he was being watched.
A branch cracked. He looked round and among
the grey clumps of young pine-trees whose curly tops
were swaying in the wind he saw several branches that
seemed to be acting independently, they did not sway
in unison with the rest. And it seemed to him that he
heard low, agitated whispers coming from there:
the whispers of human beings. Again, as when he had
encountered the dog, he felt a cold shiver run down his
He quickly drew his pistol from the bosom of his flying
suit. The pistol had already grown rusty and he had to use
both hands to cock it. The click seemed to startle somebody
hidden among the pines. Several of the tree tops swayed
heavily, as if somebody had pushed against them, but soon
everything was quiet again.
"What is it, a man or an animal?" Alexei asked
himself, and it seemed to him that he heard somebody
in the clump of trees, also asking: "Is it a man?" Was
it his imagination, or did he really hear somebody in
the clump speak Russian? Why, yes, Russian! And
because it was Russian he was suddenly overcome with
such mad joy that, not stopping to think whether it